Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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18th-century college students liked beer: archaeologists


Just outside the oldest college building in the US, archaeologists have discovered what they think may be an on-campus brewery dating to the 18th century, the Associated Press reports, here via the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Officials on the campus of the College of William and Mary in Virginia were planning to widen a sidewalk in front of the Wren Building when workers came across the centuries-old equipment. They hope the discovery will allow them to tell a more complete narrative about college life in Colonial America. That culture, they believe, probably included the intersection of slaves, Native Americans, professors, and students.

“This is exactly what we want,” the AP quoted Susan Kern, executive director of the college’s historic campus, as saying. “It’s a marvelous find.”

Based on debris from cannons found at the site, archaeologists say it’s likely the brewery was destroyed before the Revolutionary War.

Work at the dig wrapped up on Aug 29, and scientists will now take things back to their labs. The plan is to look for pollen from hops, which would be around if what they found was truly a brewery. “Hops are flowers, essentially, and they should have pollen,” the AP quoted Andy Edwards, lead archaeologist on the dig, as saying. “If they’re around, we should get their signature and that’ll help with the case.”

Great, but how was the beer?

The building seems small for a brewery, according to reports, measuring about 18 by 20 feet. There wouldn’t have been room to do much tasting on site, although a faucet was discovered.

The beer would not have been very strong in terms of the alcoholic content either. Because they brewed “small beer,” it would have resulted from a second or third brewing, Mr Edwards explained: “Less alcoholic, like an ale today,” he said.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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